Two friends of mine from Chile, who are temporarily in India, frequently get asked where they are from and when they reply, a lot of people do not seem to have a clue about the existence of their country. When they say “Chile, in South America”, they are usually met with “Ah yes...Brazil? Argentina?” It is only poetic justice that the following conversation happened with me while I travelled in a Chilean local bus or a “micro” last year on my way home from work.
The micro we used to take to get back home from work
(Photo from Google Images)
We live in a small city about two hours away from Santiago and our office used to be located bang in the middle of nowhere about forty minutes from our little town. When we missed the transport that was provided to us by our workplace, we had to return home on one of these micros. It used to be a fun lesson in anthropology, topology and sociology as the micro took a circuitous route through every single village between Curauma (our workplace) and Vina del Mar (home).
Curauma - I believe it is Spanish for "amidst nothingness"
Glorious glorious Viña del Mar
(Photos courtesy Google Streeet View)
I was sitting next to the window in one of these micros one evening and the micro was quickly getting filled up with people from the neighbouring villages who were eager to visit our town, which they referred to as “the city”. An elderly gentleman sat next to me and realized in a few seconds that I was a foreigner and an Asian one at that. Here is the interesting little chat I had with him that day with my limited Spanish (I could only speak in the present tense at that point in time):
Him: Where are you from?
Him: (his eyes light up) So that's in China?
Me: No, India – different country.
Him: (confused and disbelieving) Not the same as China?
Me: (feeling strangely apologetic about having to overturn his beliefs) We are neighbours, yes, but India is a different country.
Him: Oh ok, I have something in my bag from your country. It has something written on it in your language and you can read it out to me.
Me: Sure! But there are many Indian languages and I know only a few of them – I hope I know the language on this thing that you have.
I am eager to find out what this “thing” is and he reaches in this bag made of polyester fibre that is stuffed with a hundred little things wrapped in old newspaper and searches for a couple of minutes. He takes out a little laughing Buddha with writing in Mandarin on the pedestal.
Me: Oh no no sir – that is not from India, it is from China. I cannot read what's written on it as I don’t know the language.
Him: Well, you could try to read it, couldn’t you?
Me: No, it is completely different from the scripts of Indian languages. I don’t have a clue.
Him: Oh well, but you speak Spanish and that is good. Which other languages do you speak?
(As I list out the languages I speak, he repeats each one after me)
At this point, we arrive at his stop and he needs to get off the micro. But he says this as he makes his way out:
Him: (in all earnestness, not jokingly)..and you forgot Chinese. You speak Chinese. Have a nice day!
All the languages I listed a few seconds earlier failed me at that instant but I a managed a smile and waved back at him.